Chang Yang Gulch
This was not the first time that I had accepted an invitation for a day trip only to wind up sweating and spitting and wishing that I had never left the house that morning. The ride up the mountain was marked by a bad omen. Our minibus slammed into an old man on a motorcycle as we carelessly approached a hairpin turn on the mountain road.
He hit us, rolled up the windshield, and fell flat. His sandal went flying 20 feet. I was sitting in the back with two friends. They were afraid to get out of the car for fear of seeing a gruesome sight. I exited the van trying to remember anything I knew about first aid. The old man was dazed but wouldn't require any medical attention. The front wheel of his bike was dented but he would be able to push it home and lean on it as a crutch.
I was shocked at how this was dealt with. We almost killed a man. After only a little chatting and blaming, he was left alone to hobble home as we got back in the minibus on our way to play in the gulch.
This was two years ago in August of 2012.
We arrived to the trailhead and began our way down. I couldn't imagine that the day would be very intense as some of the women were wearing high heels. Experience had proven that an outing in the mountains simply involved climbing some stairs and having lunch on a hilltop. I was ready for that, looking forward to that, but should have known better. We were walking down, not up.
As we descended, I enjoyed taking in the scenery and shooting a few photos. Meanwhile, Cen Cen barked at me from the front to hurry up. Later in the day, she would again be barking at me from time to time, as I slithered along the slippery rocks that she deftly hopped along, occasionally sashaying so to steady her balance.
We arrived to the water's edge. Cen Cen lent me a waterproof bag for my camera and phone. I would need it. She instructed me to take off my socks and wear them over my shoes for extra traction. I complied and, as soon as I realized where I was and what I was about to do, I began to regret not having had a bigger breakfast. Oh, and the woman wearing the bright yellow high-heels...she slipped them off in exchange for proper hiking shoes. My stomach sort of sank as I realized that I was with some hardcore weekend warriors.
The first four hours were fine. We rappelled down waterfalls and negotiated interesting natural obstacles. Some of the rocks formed separate pools. They were so tempting to dip into and were different temperatures. I wanted to lounge in them but the was impossible as the group trudged along. There was teamwork involved. At times, climbing down the waterfalls was scary. We sometimes jumped off of 6 meter high cliffs into deep pools. It was exhilerating. By lunch time, I was in a good mood like everyone else and as the natural high wore on, I nominated this day to be my favorite days in China.
I never knew exactly how far we were going. It didn't dawn on me until an hour into the afternoon that we had a long ways to go. I wanted to slowly take in the beauty. Cen Cen was pushing me to go faster. I simply don't have the balance or strength to hop over rocks at a jogging pace. I have creek walked before. I have wadded in cold water and climbed rocks all day before. I have even done it alone.
I cannot be sure how far the actual trail was but some parts were really hard. I had to crawl over them as with my legs were giving out or my shoes couldn't catch a grip on the mossy rocks. It was 8:30PM by the time we exited the trail.
Exiting the trail, I was told, once again, to hurry up. I told them to fuck off. Small amounts of moisture was in the waterproof back, most likely entering when I opened it. I wanted to take a photo of something to help me remember this hike.
At a certain point in the day the effort stops being physical and becomes mental. You face just about every demon in your mind. Every reminder of why you cannot complete the hike competes for a word. They are the voices that kick you when you are down. But there is another voice. It is a voice that can create increments and take such terrain and make mini-finishlines. This is the voice that is the voice that gets things done. I have heard it before when I had only my own body, my own wits, and my own reaction time to get me through the day. This voice was with me on this day.
I suppose that extreme athletes have a special relationship with this voice. They can overcome any obstacle. Competing on a team or in a conventional race is never enough to awaken this level of competition. To really test your endurance you have to push through many levels of exhaustion. This is not for me.
My camera stopped functioning temporarily because of minor water damage. It would work again once it dried. But Cen Cen knew I was pissed. On the trail, I saw a side of her that I didn't like very much. I though the day was going to be leisurely. All I wanted to do was breathe some fresh air and take some photos. Instead she yelled like a dill instructor. That did nothing to motivate me. Watching her shake her hips from side to side like Shakira as she steadied herself on rocks did more to keep my chin up (so to speak) than any frustrated word she said to me.
We didn't talk for a long while after that but eventually we resumed our friendship. When we recently went to Jingzhou to tour around the ancient wall and reservoir, I peppered her with questions to make sure it was not some 10 hour trudge through a gulch...again.
(click in the photo to navigate to the recent photos from Jingzhou)